Caring for older Parrots, Dot Schwarz reveals how to care for older Parrots, shares examples of long lived birds and a lot more.
One of the best avian vets I know, Alan Jones told me, when we were discussing Parrot longevity that ‘borne out by my experience in 40 years as an avian veterinarian, many African Grey Parrots and Amazons died between 20 and 40. Living to 50+ was undoubtedly exceptional. Macaws died 30-40, with 60-70 rarely achieved.
All down to ignorance of their welfare needs, poor diet and husbandry, hand-rearing giving them a weak start in life, etc. In my experience also, zoo Parrots seem to fare even less well!
We have learned a lot more in the last few decades about the way these birds should be kept, but sadly too late for the thousands that were imported in the 1980s and 1990s. Alan and his wife, Maria are the proud carers of a 57-year-old Moluccan Cockatoo, Lucien, who is still, says Alan, ‘lively and as randy as hell.’
Some senior birds
You might have read in 2012 that Tarbu, a wild caught African Grey had died at the age of 55. Tarbu had been bought as a fledgling in 1957 when Nina Morgan and her husband Peter were working in Tanzania. The family returned to UK in 1987.
Tarbu was Nina Morgan’s closest companion. She was a widow of 89 when Tarbu died. She told a journalist: We did so much together. He would say ‘Hello, my darling’ to me every morning when I gave him a digestive biscuit for breakfast.
I would let him out every afternoon for what I called his ‘fly past’ and he’d fly around the living room and come and sit by me on the sofa. We used to watch the news, Emmerdale and Coronation Street together. If an animal programme came on he used to squawk at the other creatures.
Mrs Morgan buried Tarbu in her garden, underneath an RAF flag. “He was my little flyer and I miss him dearly.”
My own experience with a senior bird was not like that, a decades-long duration, merely 11 years. Wild caught, Orange-winged Amazon Lena and her mate Archie came to us from Colchester Zoo. Lena had been mutilated by half a wing being cut (possibly when captured).
Although never tame, she was easy to handle. She and her mate Archie had a dignity about them which struck everyone (two-legged, four-legged, furred or feathered) who met them. Particularly the other birds in my aviary who would fly into their flight, door left open and visit with them but never touch their food bowls.
Another senior bird that also known to me through his biography and personal contact with Joanna Burger. Tiko a Red- lored Amazon is well into his sixties. Joanna wrote of him a couple of years ago,
Tiko is sitting behind me as I write these words, calling softly to me now and then, and insisting on being preened every hour or so. He just passed his 60th birthday, which is very old for an Amazon. He has arthritis and a cataract in one eye, but he’s otherwise healthy and happy.
He follows me around, courts me every spring, and defends me against anyone who comes too close, including my husband. He places himself between me and others, ready to do battle. He’s old, but is adapting to his infirmities, and is in high spirits.
Joanna Burger wrote The Parrot Who Owns Me in 2001 when Tiko was already over 40. It remains on our book shelves as one of the most fascinating memoirs of how to adjust your life and live with a Parrot. Tiko is still living with Joanna and her husband.
The elderly or aged Pot be one who has grown old along with but one you have taken in as a rehome or when the original carers could no longer keep it. That was the case with Tiko who joined the Burger household at the age of 25.
I’ve made a new friend of Susan Hardy. She’s a single mum with 2 grown sons. Some years ago, when housekeeping for a Parrot breeder she met Rocky, who’d been returned to the breeder as a clipped, biting youngster. Susan, saddened at his plight, took him in. He bonded with her. He stopped biting, but the damaged wings have never grown enough to resume flight.
The bare-skin plucking has been reduced to fluff. He is a happy soul. Two years ago, Susan decided he needed a companion for when she was at work. After a home visit and a fee, a Parrot rescue handed Charlie over to her. He’d been with the same family for 50 years. The couple now old, had gone to live in a Home. Their son (in his 70s) didn’t want the Parrot, a Yellow-crowned Amazon.
Charlie was now deaf, half blind. arthritic but defiantly alive. Sue has learned all she can about the care of an aged bird and he has a good quality of life. He has a cage, with soft perches, a beautifully equipped play stand. Plenty of out of cage time with Su and a working relationship with Rocky, the much younger Grey. Charlie’s bitten her once badly on the lip.
“My fault entirely,” Susan says. “I came up to him too fast. He cannot always see or hear. I was wearing pink, which colour he dislikes.” She’s forgiven him. Tired from a strenuous work day, Susan’s evenings are enjoyed by relaxing in her Parrot- friendly sitting room watching TV with a Parrot on either side of her.
That neither can fly doesn’t worry her too much. She likes to sit in the garden with them in warm weather. Charlie sleeps a lot, doesn’t move much but clearly responds to Susan.
At Paradise Park in Cornwall the curator David Woolcock told me that their oldest bird had been a documented Cockatoo that died at the age of 77.
‘Currently the oldest birds at the park are most probably the Macaws and Cockatoos that are in their thirties and forties. We even have a white cheeked touraco that is approaching 30 and one of our bald eagles is 30 this year.’
Asking David for tips for carers who want their birds to live long, well and healthily, he said, ‘TLC basically. But be realistic as well. The quality of life is important’.
These averages will always be exceeded by some individuals who live far longer.
Budgerigars – 6 years
Cockatiels – 15 years
Conures – tend to live for some 25-30 years on average, though some smaller members of the Conure family may only reach 15-20 years.
Senegals – while slightly larger than Conures, the Senegal Parrot is known to live for roughly the same period of time – around 25-30 years.
Eclectus – can be expected to live for around 30 years in captivity.
African Greys – most pets die in their 20s and 30s. But some into their 50s.
Amazons – of a similar size to Greys, Amazons tend to live longer . They may reach ages of some 60 years when well cared-for in captivity.
Blue & Gold Macaws – have a potential lifespan of around 50 years. Many reach 30 – 35 years as pets.
Cockatoos – a highly-varied group of Parrots, with some specimens much larger than others. Most specimens reach a ripe old age of 40-50 years old. There are verified instances of Cockatoos reaching their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Green-wing Macaws – one of the longest-lived Parrots. Due to their long lifespan, their maximum age varies considerably. A healthy, captive green wing can reach 50-60 years of age. It is not unusual for individuals to live longer.
Tips for helping the older bird
- Provide good nutrition
- Provide a comfortable, warm enough, enriching environment
- Examine the bird’s condition daily, feathers, posture, droppings and eyes
- Know the signs of emerging problems
- Find and trust a good avian vet (find your nearest one here)
The same diet that you use for the mature bird should be adequate as long as the bird isn’t losing weight or becoming obese. Weekly weighing is the best way to check that. Weigh your bird with our scales here.
Older birds move around less. They are often quieter. They may need flat perches or a padded floor if they have sore feet or arthritis. If you observe your bird’s body language after making gradual modifications, you easily see what makes the bird more comfortable.
My beloved Lena kept her bright eyes and her appetite almost to the very end. She needed extra warmth and went to sleep beside an oil filled radiator. Another friend who has an old bird with sinus problems keeps a heat lamp at one end of the cage that the bird can choose to utilize or not.
They still need exercise. Maybe some softer wood for their chewing needs. Balsa wood is ideal for this. Swings are ideal exercise for elderly birds. Find lots of swings here.
Parrot poo is often the one of the first signs of an internal problem.
Birds hide illness. There is no such thing as a hypochondriac Parrot! But fluffed up for a long time, staying on the floor of the cage, poor appetite or drooping wings are symptoms you need to discuss with an expert.
Cataracts are one. These can be operated upon but not many people choose that route. With some forethought, a blind bird can still have a good quality of life.
As with many mammals, aged birds can suffer deafness. There is no cure.
Some older birds lose feathers (like humans lose hair) but it’s not a fatal condition. When Lena first lost some feathers, I rushed to the vet, who reassured me kindly but said there was nothing to be done.
Avian vet exam
I know from experience and friends that Parrot people use veterinary exams less often in UK than in USA. What I have never found out – is whether life spans are longer in one place or another. What I do know though is that a good avian vet will never blame you for visiting if you are worried.
Birds with discomfort might vocalize less, and their activity and interaction levels slow down, too. The judicious use of analgesics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can make a huge difference in their comfort levels. Your avian vet will help you with this. Lena took a small dose of painkiller every day for the last years of her life. Joanna Burger medicates Tiko for his arthritis every day.
Dimming vision often causes older birds to startle more often as they become frightened by movement or objects they can’t see easily. This can result in aggressive behaviour.
Liz Wilson wrote, commenting on startle behaviour in older birds, ‘People who do not recognize a bird’s infirmities might misinterpret such behaviours as the birds becoming mean, but nothing is further from the truth.
On the contrary, my experience with elderly birds indicates that when they are handled with understanding and respect, they show an increased potential for affection. As with some elderly humans, they appear able to see right through the layers of superficiality, and right to the core of the situation. Looking deep in their eyes, you know you are dealing with an old soul.’